Gilas-Australia hostility reaches boiling point with ugly skirmish

Denison Rey A. Dalupang - Philstar.com
Gilas-Australia hostility reaches boiling point with ugly skirmish
Gilas players Andray Blatche and Jayson Castro charge into Daniel Kickert of Australia shortly after the visitor decked Roger Pogoy with an elbow in Monday night's controversial FIBA World Cup qualifying game at the Philippine Arena in Bocaue, Bulacan.
Photo via Jonathan Asuncion, PhilStar.com

Tempers flared, violence ensued in the Philippines’ final game in the first round of the basketball World Cup qualifying games

BOCAUE, Bulacan — The sporting world was abuzz with LeBron James’ decision to join the Lakers in Los Angeles on Monday.

The Philippine men’s national basketball team, situated on the other side of the world, was primed for their chance to generate news as massive by wresting the solo lead of the FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers’ Group B play.

Three quarters into their game against the Aussies, before 22,181 people, and thousands more via live telecast, the Filipinos, down by 31 points with a little over four minutes left in the third quarter, did just that — and for all the wrong reasons.

The saltiness between the two teams from Sunday night’s decal controversy simmered minutes before the tip-off. It evaporated violently when Philippines’ Roger Pogoy retaliated to a blind-sided hit by Australia’s Daniel Kickert, leading to a dizzying sequence adorned with fists, knees, and a chair.

It sent Twitter users into a frenzy, propelling the tournament’s official hashtag “#FIBAWC” into worldwide notoriety with “Gilas” in tow.

“It’s unfortunate that we didn’t want it to happen,” revealed coach Chot Reyes, who accommodated a short chat with the press after huddling in their locker room at the Philippine Arena for over an hour.

“The foul of Pogoy on Christopher Goulding was an offensive foul, it was a basketball play, but [Daniel Kickert] was the one who came in and decked Pogoy … Unfortunately, that triggered the entire brawl,” Reyes offered.

The free-for-all led to the disqualification of 13 players—nine from the Philippines, and three from Australia. But the decision came only after a review that dragged on while enduring a backdrop of spectators spewing expletives and racial slurs, flashing of obscene gestures, throwing of water bottles, and interestingly, a seemingly out-of-touch crowd wave, along with a cheering that mocked the referees.

Robbie Puno, vice chair of the Philippines’ governing body for basketball, offered that the flaring of emotions was the culmination of Sunday’s drama. Members of the Aussie delegation forcibly removed the decals of Gilas’ top sponsors from the court which earned the ire of top backer Manny V. Pangilinan, and even Reyes himself.





"You have to look back at the practice day before the game when they disrespected our court and started pulling out the decals of our sponsors, our paying sponsors. They had absolutely no right to do that,” he said.

For the visitors’ part, they have issued a statement minutes before the match, addressing the issue.



But theatrics did not stop there.

According to Reyes, Kickert had been taking a shot at Filipino players during the pre-game shoot-around.  

The disqualifying fouls left Gilas with just three players: June Mar Fajardo, veteran Gabe Norwood, and Qualifiers rookie Baser Amer. Al Panlilio, the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas’ top honcho, then stepped in, pleading  for “restraint and respect”.



As if the night didn’t pack enough bizarre moments, officials decided to resume the contest. Fajardo was the first to foul out. He was soon followed by Norwood, leaving Amer as the last Gilas member on the floor, leading to the team’s defeat at the third period.   



Reyes, when asked about the possible repercussions, could only point to FIBA.

Gilas’ management barred its players from speaking to the members of the media. But Wright, who was among the cagers slapped with an ejection, was able to share his thoughts, albeit briefly.

“Everyone knows we’re a gracious host. But if you push us to the limit, there’s only so much we can do so. I’m just happy everyone stood up for each other and we had each other’s backs,” he said.

Gilas will be mounting a press conference in Ortigas on Tuesday night, according to one of its backers, Bounty Sports.

Shortly after the game, FIBA revealed through a Twitter posting that it is mulling punishments for both teams

The Aussies, through Basketball Australia’s chief executive Anthony Moore, were quick to express regret over what transpired, saying they were extremely disappointed with what happened and their role in it.

Reyes, in his parting shot the press, was firm.

The ugly scenes capped  Gilas’ first-round campaign with a 4-2 record, already assured of a spot in the next phase. The Aussies return to their hometown with a 5-1 card which places them atop Group B.

Also making the next round is Japan after scoring another upset—this time, against the Chinese-Taipei, who they decimated on the road, 108-68. The Akatsuki five is the lone team to have defeated the Boomers.





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